Stand up and fight until you hear the bell. Stand toe to toe, trade blow for blow.
Saturday and the city buzzes as I head to the Belltable. A drum beats a tattoo in my head, dull, repetitive but consistent. I hope I can concentrate. We launch into work, beginning with Ballyturk. Intense discussion, rising drumbeat in my head. We move on to my peers’ work. Today we have matchmakers and gyms. We also have glam rock and Bowie. Workshops throw up all the bonkers stuff.
Keep punching ‘til you make those punches tell, show that crowd what ya know.
The drumbeat in my head is loud now. Too loud. The tribe gathers, I can feel it inside me. I am torn between this, the monthly playwright mentoring session and the theatre that will happen across the city in a couple of hours. Plato’s cave wanders into our discussion along with Sonya Kelly’s The Wheelchair on My Face and more glam rock. And Enda Walsh. Always back to Enda. I am restless now, eager to join my tribe. Chekhov’s The Seagull floats in for a visit. So does Amy Conroy.
Until you hear that bell, that final bell….
I wonder if Gavin can hear the drumbeat now? I also wonder why he didn’t do a Christmas bake for us. Myself and a colleague hatch a new TV show: Gavin in a bake off with a glam rock theme. The drumbeat is a roar now as I leave the Belltable. My friend is dressed in red, tribal colours. So am I. We walk over Thomond Bridge and our tribe swells. The river snakes through the city in watery December sunshine. The castle rises up behind us, like a protective hug. The tribe is hundreds, then thousands. I can see it now, towering over the skyline – the greatest theatre on earth. I can hear my tribe sing inside. We throng through the turnstiles in electric air. We take our seats. The drumbeat is on the pitch, the stage is set. We sing our tribal war dance. 26,000 voices. Plato would love this.
“Of course, there’s lots of reasons to put on a play”, Jim Culleton gleefully realised in answer to the question he had just asked of the directors present. Session number three of the Belltable:Connect: Fishamble Mentorship Programme offered plenty of discussion and discourse, as had the previous two instalments, but having thoroughly settled into the format by now, the assembled theatre creators wasted no time in getting to the nugget of this week’s topic.
It’s been a manic three months for all of the directors taking part, but after three sessions I’ve come to the conclusion that directors’ lives tend to be manic all the time. Thank god! I thought it was just me. I think that this realisation, more than anything else, is the great success of the programme so far. Being a director, you tend to lock yourself away in the little pocket universe of whatever play you’re directing. Being given the opportunity to discuss the highs, lows, and the general process of creating theatre as a director has been invaluable so far. Myself and Al, one of the other directors from Cork, joked early on that it was like a group counselling session for directors, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Last February I set up my own theatre company called Ferocious Composure with some of the designers, actors and managers that I had worked with in UCC. The name came from the commentary for the 2014 All Ireland Gaelic Football Final. I can still hear Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s voice as I sat in my car on the way back from helping with a puppet show in Meath. “The Kerry team have shown ferocious composure all year”. It’s how we in the company like to imagine ourselves. Ferocious yet composed, ready to pounce, and full of potential. I’ve come to realise over the past three sessions that, sadly, it’s not a trait unique to the individuals I recruited for my own endeavours. All eleven of my fellow directors have that same quality. I’m sure the playwrights group is the same. The theatre industry can be vicious and unforgiving at times, like a perpetual, harsh winter. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you set out to work in theatre in Ireland, you have to be driven, prolific and imaginative, while simultaneously maintaining your cool and standing your ground, otherwise you’ll be weeded out remorselessly before you even get a leaf out of the earth.
To push the metaphor even further into infuriating hyperbole, the “group counselling sessions,” in that case, serve as a welcome reminder of what awaits you if you do make it into the sunlight. More, like-minded individuals, ready to hear your woes, share their own experiences and offer help and advice in order to facilitate your own growth as a director/plant.
Working on my current production, “The Nun’s Wood” by Pat Kinevane, I’ve found the sessions incredibly helpful in two major ways. Firstly, the collective knowledge of the group is immense, especially with Jim thrown into the mix. I’ll often find myself rapidly scribbling notes for five or ten minutes at a time while listening to another director’s experience, or hearing the advice being offered to that director. Sometimes I’ll find myself offering an answer to somebody else’s question, only to realise that I’ve inadvertently solved one of my own problems. Secondly, (and to sheepishly bring things full circle), I’ve realised that I’m not alone in the madness of creating theatre. The problems I’m facing have been faced before. The thoughts and worries I’ve had have all been experienced already. Knowing that I have a safe space to which I can retreat once a month to say “Oh! That’s happened to you too?” gives me great confidence in my own ability and in my own choices.
It’s a mad auld industry we’ve chosen to plant ourselves in, and people get drawn into it from incredibly diverse backgrounds. I’m not sure if anybody really knows exactly why they put on a play. There’s lot’s of reasons to put on a play. There’s no one right answer to the question, but after three sessions I’m sure of one thing. Right answer or not, I’m not alone in being compelled to do it anyway.
“The Nun’s Wood” is running at the Granary theatre Cork from December 13-17. Tickets can be booked HERE.
I’ve been into writing since I was a tot. Myself and my pal Pony were always half-trying to outdo each other with tales of derring-do, entertaining ourselves by putting a spin on the dreary “English Composition” exercises we were doled out in National School (i.e. My Dream, or My First DOT DOT DOT). We eventually started to write daft stories without the aid of a prompt, creating whole worlds for our own entertainment. Our stories were peppered with grisly scenes of bloody death, like Rambo on steroids (I suppose it’s no surprise as we both saw First Blood when we were 7). Often the protagonist was alone and found themselves in the midst of a jungle, or a dense forest with jeeploads of sweaty, grimy men emerging from the undergrowth on all sides, bearing ill-will against our hero, mostly just for existing. There was no need to reveal anything about these guys’ inner turmoil; to provide a back-story or explain further would be to obfuscate, we just wanted to get straight into the action. We didn’t get bogged down in the detail, we took our joy in seeing them get bogged down in the muck and jungle.
Flash-forward three decades, and I’m still at it: still producing short stories, but mostly plays and screenplays. They mightn’t be as bloody as the first, but there are still liberal doses of horror and violence to be found in there. As well as telling stories, I’m selling them – flogging books in our bookshop, Scéal Eile Books in Ennis by day, but by night (and on weekends!) I’m writing away.
One of my plays was short-listed for the Eamonn Keane Playwriting Award (Listowel Writers’ Week) earlier this year, and others made the short-list for RTÉ’s PJ O’Connor Award, and the Bruntwood Playwriting Award. I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice in the last decade, once with a company play, and the last time with my own offering Sparks; a one-man show with Darren Killeen, brought over by our own Scéal Eile Productions, set-up by myself and my wife Éibhleann. We very much follow the ethos “Keep on keeping on”. I’m enjoying being part of the Belltable:Connect /Fishamble Mentoring Programme. The best part about this mentorship so far is being given prompts by Gavin Kostick (which are very useful and in stark contrast to my past experience of writing prompts and workshop environments), and being led creatively towards the production of new ideas.
It’s very easy to become lost in a world of ideas when you are working alone outside a group, and sometimes you just need a kick up the arse and someone to tell you to just write the fecking thing and stop procrastinating! Gavin hasn’t given anyone a kick in the arse yet but once he’s over his tennis injury… well let’s hope he’s not out of bubblegum! I’m working on a new play, which will develop throughout this next year as part of the mentorship, aided by the finest selection of biscuits to be found in any theatre, anywhere. Thanks, Belltable!
“I have squandered the years the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil”
– “The Fool” by Pádraig Pearse
For this second session of the Belltable:Connect programme in conjunction with Fishamble: The New Play Company, the early focus was placed on Beckett’s seminal text, Not I, as well as Theatre Lovett’s recent production of A Feast of Bones, two plays chosen by Rebecca Feely and Mollie Molumby as their respective favourite theatrical texts. Rebecca spoke passionately about Not I as a text and its place within Beckett’s body of work, nestling itself within his trope of dehumanizing the human body and consciousness in an attempt to excavate the essential experience of what it is to “exist”. Mollie prefaced A Feast for Bones by speaking on another of her favourite plays, Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan, and how the author so effectively speaks about issues surrounding mental health within the context of family theatre. This led on to the discussion of Theatre Lovett’s production and how the company creates dynamic, absorbing and challenging works for audiences of all ages and how this ability to communicate across age and experience gaps highlights the strength of the company’s work and the themes it engages with. The discussion of both works was characterized by sincere passion, both speakers eager to share what makes these plays and production so pertinent to them and their development as directors. Mollie concluded speaking about TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) in highlighting its lack of funding in Ireland and widened the discussion to ask the group if they thought there were any other areas of theatre which were underfunded in Ireland.
This question was met with flitting eyes and wry smiles until the common consensus was shouted simultaneously: “ALL OF IT!”.
Although we all laughed and acknowledged the hardship of funding our work in theatre, the mention of it in the room was quite palpable – a sense of worry trickled in. Funding was raised further in the director’s roundtable on current projects in development, and it struck me how quickly the passion of speaking about theatre in the first half of the session was tempered by discussions of money and funding.
I quote Pádraig Pearse above for this very reason. The quote shows how the work of art and theatre is what we do it for, not for financial gain or recognition, and allowing money to constrain our ideas in contradictory to our work. Theatre and the arts are not a means, they are the end. The Fool is featured in an upcoming production I am directing and acting in with the Arts in Action programme in NUIG this month. The production is called Love, Loss, Freedom and it gathers together poetry from 1916 as well as music of the era to reflect the ideas of the Rising and to articulate what gave rise to it in the first place. Being surrounded by these revolutionary ideas has instilled me with a certain renewed faith in doing theatre and establishing a career in the arts. The ideas championed in war poetry of the era not only reflected the ideas of the time, it helped to bolster and strengthen them. Granted the outcome of those ideas was bloodshed and death, but it serves to show the strength of art and how its echoes resound enough to influence action. Although a necessary evil of working in theatre (and practically throughout life in general), money should not allow us to deny ourselves the chance to pursue what is we truly want to do.
And this is not an unrealistic world view, or a naive one. Or a “millenial” one for that matter. The idea that the arts exist beyond monetary value lead many to view it as superfluous – what good does it provide economically in a capitalist society? But what price could you possibly put on the idea of change? Granted, each and every piece of theatre may not have a wide reaching effect itself, but in the way similar shows with similar themes communicate with one another to begin to affect change, this is the real strength of theatre and the arts.
In doing the Belltable:Connect programme, we as directors and playwrights come together to share this passion for theatre and the arts and for a brief period get to consider the work itself without considering the extenuating circumstances of it. This is not to say we live in a lovely little theatrical bubble. Rather there is a safe space for us to share creativity and therefore bolster ourselves for when the time does come to seek funding. It allows for a renewed sense of faith in our ideas and in ourselves. These “impossible things” are indeed themselves, “worth the toil” and it’s great to have the opportunity to be reminded of that in being part of this programme.
Director Lynne Parker is one of the main mentors working with the Theatre Makers 2017 creative ensemble, January to July 2017.
Lynne is Artistic Director and co-founder of Rough Magic. Productions for Rough Magic include: Northern Star, The House Keeper (Irish Times Best New Play 2012), The Critic, Travesties, Peer Gynt, Phaedra, Don Carlos (Irish Times Best Production 2007), The Taming of the Shrew (Best Production 2006), Improbable Frequency (Best Production, Best Director, 2004), Copenhagen (Best Production 2002), Sodome, my love, Three days of Rain, The Sugar Wife, Spokesong, Pentecost, Hidden Charges, Down Onto Blue, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Digging for Fire, Love and a Bottle (Bank of Ireland/Arts Show Award), Danti-Dan, New Morning, I Can’t Get Started, The Way of the World, The Country Wife, Decadence, Top Girls. Most recently the world premieres of Hilary Fannin’s Famished Castle and The Train by Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan.
Other Theatre includes – Heavenly Bodies (Best Director, 2004), The Sanctuary Lamp, Down the Line, The Trojan Women, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Tartuffe, The Shape of Metal (Abbey Theatre); The Drawer Boy (Galway Arts Festival); Lovers (Druid); Bernard Alba, Me and My Friend (Charabanc); Catchpenny Twist (Tinderbox); Bold Girls (7:84 Scotland); The Shadow of a Gunman (Gate Theatre); The Clearing (Bush Theatre); Playboy of the Western World, Silver Tassie (Almeida Theatre); Playhouse Creatures (Old Vic); Importance of Being Earnest (West Yorkshire Playhouse); Love Me?! (Corn Exchange); Comedy of Errors (RSC); Olga, Shimmer (Traverse Theatre); Only the Lonely (Birmingham Rep); La Voix Humaine (Opera Theatre Company); A Streetcar Named Desire (Opera Ireland); The Drunkard, Benefactors (B*spoke); The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly (The Ark/Theatre Lovett); Macbeth (Lyric Theatre Belfast); The Cunning Little Vixen, Albert Herring (RIAM). Most recently, Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf (Tron Theatre, Glasgow) Stewart Parker’s Northern Star and The Provoked Wife by John Vanbrugh (The Lir Academy).
She was an Associate Artist of Charabanc Theatre Company. Lynne was awarded the Irish Times Special Tribute Award in 2008 and an Honorary Doctorate by Trinity College Dublin in 2010.
Theatre Makers 2017 will have two main mentors, working with the creative ensemble January to July 2017, playwright Deirdre Kinahan and director Lynne Parker.
Deirdre is actively involved in the Irish Theatre Sector both as Playwright and Producer. She is a member of Aosdána and currently sits on the Abbey Board (Ireland’s National Theatre) and on the Stewart Parker Trust advisory committee whose mission is to encourage new writing for the stage. Her work is translated into many languages and produced regularly both in Ireland and on the International stage. 2016 saw productions of Deirdre’s plays in Chicago, New York, Washington, London, Warsaw and Ireland. Deirdre is published by Nick Hern Books.
Deirdre’s latest play Wild Sky, commissioned by Meath County Council Arts Office is written in commemoration of events leading up to the 1916 Irish Rising and premiered in Spring 2016 at various venues Ireland and the US.
Deirdre is currently under commission to The Old Vic Theatre (London), Manhattan Theatre Club (New York), Fishamble: The New Play Company (Ireland), with numerous other theatre projects in development.
Deirdre has written for The Royal Court and Bush Theatre London, Fishamble: The New Play Company, Abbey Theatre, Civic Theatre, Project Arts Centre, Tall Tales and Livin Dred in Ireland. Her plays include: Wild Sky, Spinning, Halcyon Days, Bogboy, Moment, Hue & Cry, Melody, Maisy Daly’s Rainbow. For Radio, she has written: Bogboy (RTE) and A Bag on Ballyfinch Place (BBC).
Deirdre has won numerous playwriting awards most notably The Scotsman’s Fringe First for Halcyon Days in 2013 and the Tony Doyle Bursary with BBC Northern Ireland in 2009. She is the recipient of the Jim McNaughton Tilestyle Bursary 2013, A Peggy Ramsay Award 2014 and Arts Council of Ireland Commission Award 2015. She is represented by Curtis Brown London and The Gersh Agency, New York.